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The Use & Misuse of 
in Education 
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Do you see laptops evolv- 
ing to the point where people 
would use them to read books. > 
I believe so, because I do 
it myself. 
E.R: You do? 
Cer[: I do and my wife does it 
I don't say every book I 
read is on the laptop. In most 
cases, I couldn't get it online any- 
way if I wanted to. Bur I'd point 
out that if I actually have suffi- 
ciently eclectic reading habits and 
I'm reading four or five books at a 
time, then carrying all of the texts 
in the laptop, along with all my 
abytes of e-mail, is actually a 
more convenient than carrying 
the books around. Moreover, the 
font size can be adjusted instead of 
having to wear bifocals, and it is 
self-illuminating so you don't have 
to keep your partner awake by 
leaving the light on at night. So all 
those various things make it 
extremely attractive to me. I found 
Edcora Review 
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nton Cerf is senior vice president of 
ata architecture for MCI Engineering. 
mong his many accomplishments, 
Cerf co-developed the TCP/IP computer net- 
working protocol widely used in the industry 
for communications on the Internet. 
Part 1 of this interview appeared in the 
May/June 1996 issue of Educom Review. 
the Powerbook black-and-white laptop 
to be perfectly acceptable for that, and I 
use an IBM Thinkpad for that purpose. 
And also I have to point out to you, 
especially when winter sets in, that most 
of those laptop devices have very hot bat- 
teries, and it is wonderfully comfortable 
to sit there reading in a slightly chilly 
room with a nice warm laptop in the 
middle of your lap. So I believe that we 
are at crossover--at least the first flex 
point of. utility in reading with the lap- 
top, and over time I think that will 
become more and more comfortable. 
I think what you may wind up with 
are specific devices that act like books, 
that may be in addition to the PC that 
you are carrying around--lighter weight, 
physically oriented toward that, but with 
a significant high-resolution, high-capac- 
ity storage facility. When you go into a 
bookstore to buy a book, you plug it in. 
You stuff the book into this 200- 
megabyte, two-and-a-half inch cartridge 
and then you go on your merry way. I 
think that is fairly readily predictable. 
i::.R: Can you imagine that some 
number of years from now--maybe 25 
or 50 years from now--or you pick a 
number--books as we know them will 
essentially be obsolete? 
Cer: I have to say yes. This is one of 
my few apocalyptic feelings--I think 
that books as a medium will become a 
lot less attractive if, but only if, we can 
assure ourselves of the reliability of these 
alternate media. But I think about the 
librarian who has been burned so many 
times by microfiche and microfilm and 
all these other media. Do you remember 
8-inch diskettes? The librarians who 
worry about archiving material point out 
that longevity is critical. And after you 
get done having a discussion about CD- 
ROM technology with a dedicated 
librarian in a research or archival library 
it stops you and makes you think a little 
bit. You need to have had the experience 
I've had--of being confronted by the 
librarian who excuses herself and then 
comes back with a one-thousand-year- 
old vellum manuscript which still looks 
as beautiful and clear as it was when it 
was first prepared, and says, smiling to 
you, now tell me a little more about the 
longevity of this CD-ROM thing you are 
excited about! 
On the other hand, I do have to 
point out that right now newsprint is 
becoming so expensive--it went up in 
price something like 50 to 70 percent 
this year--that it is actually having a 
deleterious effect on newspapers. Now 
that doesn't necessarily spell the demise 
of books--and if anything we are pub- 
lishing more now than we ever did 
before--but as I look at my pile of books 
and realize that when I am away from 
them I can't get to them, the attraction 
of being able to get to my books online is 
very appealing. It's so appealing that 
even if books don't go away I think they 
will surely be joined by technological 
alternatives--and the book publishing 
business will find itself with this other 
medium. Eventually books will be a less 
attractive and perhaps special-case 
Now I could be quite completely 
wrong about this, but I think that the ulti- 
mate dominance of computer-based tech- 
nology is so likely that--maybe not in 50 
years, but maybe in 100 years--we will 
eventually conclude that books are not the 
most cost-effective way to go. For one 
thing, the computer can't read them and 
help you find anything in them. 
i::.l: Do you think that the experi- 
ments by publishing companies, particu- 
larly newspapers, will pay off in the inter- 
mediate range? 
Cer: Well, I think so, although I 
have to point out a couple of practical 
problems. One of them has to do with 
the availability of power, the convenience 
of communications, and the physical 
characteristics of the reading devices. 
Think about what you do when you read 
the newspaper. If you are sitting at the 
breakfast table, the paper doesn't weigh 
very much and you sort of hold it up 
while you are eating your breakfast. Lap- 
tops today are not the same weight as a 
newspaper and you have to find room on 
the table for them. Moreover you can 
tear the newspaper into different sections 
and hand them out to everybody who 
wants to read the funnies while you are 
reading the sports section. Everybody has 
to have his own laptop in order to read 
different pieces of the newspaper. And so 
the dynamics are different. The physical 
facilities are different. Perhaps when we 
get tabletops that have fiat panels, that 
will change, but in the meantime you 
can see that paper is still extremely 
attractive for certain cases. 
And yet I see the computer-based 
stuff making some serious inroads as they 
have with me. I will preferentially carry 
an online book--assuming I can find 
it--to carrying a physical book around 
when I'm on travel. 
July/August 4 
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What have you read online? 
Cer[: Well, the first experiment I did 
was with Jurassic Park, and that was 
about two years ago on the Powerbook 
140 from Apple. That particular book 
was published by Voyager Press, and it 
had some gimmicks: if you clicked on 
one of the names of the dinosaurs, it 
would roar at you and then show you a 
picture of the dinosaur. You could also 
type in little notes and things like that. I 
didn't find any of those particularly 
attractive. I just found it nice not to have 
to carry the damn book around. I had to 
carry the laptop anyway. So I read that. 
I read all of Arthur Conan Doyle. 
My wife downloaded Henry James's The 
American just recently, and loaded all of 
Shakespeare in. And, gosh, the Guten- 
berg Press project--if you're familiar 
"It} so appealing 
that even if books 
don} go away 
think they will 
surely be joined 
by technological 
with that--has released maybe 150 
works. Of course that's a pittance com- 
pared to what's been published in the 
other media, but it's a start. 
And, second, I think that as publish- 
ers start to believe that there is an infra- 
structure out there that they can use to 
build their business on, they will begin to 
come out with online volumes that you 
can download. 
i::.R: The publishers continue to be 
concerned about copyright issues. What 
are your thoughts about copyright and 
the Internet? 
Cerf: Well, plainly, copyright is an 
important matter--or intellectual prop- 
erty rights in general. If you recall, the 
laurpose behind the original copyright 
legislation shows up in our own found- 
ing documents as an attempt to encour- 
age the sharing of information, supplying 
means to cause people to create intellec- 
tual property and then share it. That's 
what patent laws are for and that's what 
copyright laws are for. And 
plainly this is going to be a 
matter of law, in that to pre- 
serve people's incentives for 
producing intellectual prop- 
erty there have to be ways of 
combating infringement. So I 
think the government has a 
regulatory and/or legislative 
role in dealing with intellec- 
tual property. 
I think the technology 
plays an equally important role 
there in providing a protective 
device for intellectual prop- 
erty, but I would observe that 
the most effective combination 
that I have seen in public so 
far has been the Software Pub- 
lishers Association, combined 
with our own existing copy- 
right laws. The SPA main- 
rains--apparently--squads of 
people who look for infringe- 
ments and advise people when they dis- 
cover them, tell them that they are 
infringing and that they will be prose- 
cuted if they don't cease and desist. And 
that is a very effective combination, 
made potent by the fact that there are 
laws protecting intellectual property 
Some people have an apocalyptic 
view that the Internet will somehow 
destroy the notion of copyrights. I don't 
think that is a warranted conclusion. 
[.: What about persons who suggest 
that it should dcstroy the notion of copy- 
right, and who use the popular slogan 
"Information Needs to Be Free"? 
Cer[: Well, I don't buy that, because 
I believe that such an argument will 
finally erode people's motives for spend- 
ing time and energy and perhaps real 
money on the production of intellectual 
property. So I reject that as an unwork- 
able outcome. 
I think that there may be different 
ideas pursued for how one compensates a 
person with intellectual property rights. 
Of course there is debate now over the 
Lehman Committee report on the trcat- 
ment of transmissions on the Internet. 
Some people who think that the Lehman 
Committee proposal to regard each 
transmission on the Net as a copy is 
somehow a bad idea. I don't agree with 
this. For one thing, the fact that you own 
a copyright does not mean that you 
therefore have to insist on payment for 
every copy that's made. It merely gives 
you the privilege of negotiating terms 
and conditions under which copies are 
made. And it seems to me that examples 
of these are site licenses--where one says, 
in the case of software, I am prepared to 
grant you an unlimited right to repro- 
duce the software so long as it is con- 
fined to this particular geographic loca- 
tion or this particular institution. 
.ll At the option of the owner of 
the intellectual property? 
Cerf: That's right. I'm saying that's 
another alternative to copy-by-copy 
charging, and what I'm trying to say here 
' 44 Educom Review 
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is that just because you choose to treat, 
legally, the transmission of an instance 
of a book over the Internet or a page- 
by-page transmission as copies of those 
pages, that this doesn't necessarily 
destroy the Internet. I think the idea 
here is to give as much room as possible 
to the owner of the copyright to nego- 
tiate terms and conditions under which 
copies are made--including free. There 
is nothing wrong with somebody say- 
ing, "There is a whole community out 
there for whom I am charging nothing 
to use this material, as long as it is not 
used in commerce." 
E.R: And you believe the decision 
to make it free or to make it a site 
license or to charge for individual 
copies remains with the owner? 
Cerf: Yes, that's where I think it 
should stay. I think that is the only rea- 
sonable way of providing incentives for 
people to produce this material. And so 
I categorically argue that to say that 
just because you put it on the Internet 
it has to be free is a terrible miscarriage 
of sensibility. 
i::.R: As we put all this stuff on the 
Net, one wonders just how far band- 
width can be pushed? 
Cerf: Well, I'm not terribly wor- 
ried about the underlying basic band- 
width availability, at least domestically. 
The fiber capacity has not even been 
nearly exploited yet. We already know 
we're doing better than the standard 
2.5 gigabit telephone fibers--we 
(MCI) are running 3.7 now, we expect 
to run 9.6 gigabits in the near future. 
Tests have already been made at 80 
gigabits per second, and there have 
even been 100 gigabits per second 
demonstrations in the lab. The native 
bandwidth of the fiber is 38,000 tera- 
hertz, which means that there's just 
enormous amounts of potential capac- 
ity. So I don't think we will reach the 
limit any time soon. 
The problem of course is not just 
pushing bits through fibers, it's switching 
them. The ability to carry increasingly 
large volumes in packet traffic is a big 
challenge. When you look at the existing 
Internet with its fairly thin infrastructure 
compared to the voice network, certainly 
you have to be worried 
about available capacity, 
especially as people begin 
pressing realtime services on 
the system, whether that's 
multicasting, video or real- 
time audio or teleconferenc- 
ing or some of the realtime 
multiuser games. 
I do believe that if there 
is an economic justification 
for expanding capacity-- 
which is why I'm so inter- 
ested in successful businesses 
being built on the Net--if 
there is such an economic 
incentive, that capacity is 
there and can be expandcd. 
There is a challenge for the 
engineers who are building 
routers to figure out how to 
make them run a lot faster than they do 
now, but fortunately they are riding a 
computing curve which is also getting 
faster. There is a doubling of speed para- 
meters and capacity parameters every 18 
or 24 months that's still with us and pro- 
jectable at least through the end of the 
decade if not somewhat beyond that. 
.;: What's MCI's strategy for solving 
these problems and how does it differ 
from others? 
Cerf: Well, MCI has chosen to go 
down several paths in the Internet envi- 
ronment or data networking in general. 
First of all, we believe that there is great 
value in content and therefore we have 
chosen to enter into businesses whose eco- 
nontics have to do with the value of con- 
tent, not really just moving the books and 
packaging them. 
.R: And an example would be? 
Cerf: Well, a two-billion-dollar invest- 
ment in News Corp. is the most prominent 
example of our interest in obtaining con- 
tent and making it accessible in various 
"7b say that just 
because you put it 
on the Internet it 
has to 
of sensibility." 
forms, not exclusively on the Internet but 
in other ways as well. The second thing I 
would observe is that the company has 
been very active in applied research work in 
high-speed networking. We were among 
the first to participate in the gigabit net- 
work research program that ARPA and 
NSF and CNRI put together way back in 
'88. We participated in the expansion of 
Internet capacity to 45 megabits with the 
NSF network. We won the Very Broad 
Band Network Service cooperative agree- 
ment from NSF. We are operating a 155 
megabits per second Internet ATM service 
for NSF now. 
We are actively involved with many of 
the different switch vendors--Cisco and 
Bay Networks, to name two--in increasing 
the capacity of their systems for Internet 
and frame relay services--to say nothing of 
July/August 45 
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'7t is almost impossible to do a good 
job of research now without being 
on the Net and able to read, and 
coordinate your work with the 
work of others." 
having been leaders in the development 
of SONET optical fiber technology and 
very rapid adaptors of higher and higher 
speed fiber electro-optics for our own 
major backbone services. We went from 
2.5 to 3.7 gigabits on our fiber simply to 
increase our base capacity. So we've been 
pursuing what I would call almost an 
applied research program in order to stay 
as far ahead as we can and to be as 
involved as possible with the develop- 
ment of the new technology. 
!.R: How do you think the cable 
companies figure in the picture? 
Cerf: I think cable companies have a 
pretty good shot at providing high-speed 
local access. In fact, as a cable user I look 
forward to the day when I can have a 10 
megabit emulated Ethernet access to the 
Internet. I expect that the cable compa- 
nies ultimately will have to plug into the 
rest of the Internet and we will be happy 
to supply them with access to the rest of 
the global Internet with high-speed inter- 
connects from their head-end. So that is 
one attraction. 
There are actually some other inter- 
esting possibilities as well, because even 
within the standard television transmis- 
sion format it is possible to encode data 
within the television image. You see that 
with closed captioning. And now there's 
some direct data transmission, called 
"Intercast," which does the same sort of 
thing as closed captioning except it uses 
more of the vertical blanking interval line 
to transmit data integrated in with the 
video. And so what could happen is that 
you could be watching the television pro- 
gram on a standard receiver but split off 
that signal and analyze it and pull out the 
digital transmission in the vertical blank- 
ing interval to carry ancillary informa- 
tion. So at the same time you are getting 
a news report on television you may be 
getting the text of the more in-depth 
Wouldn't that be interesting--you 
would end up almost integrating 
togcthcr the ncvspapcr dcpth with the 
television instant hit. 
[.l: Do you see mainly winners in all 
this, or are there going to be some 
losers--industries or populations or peo- 
ple or whatever? 
Cer: Well, I think there is always 
the potential for losers; and there's 
always the potential for someone to come 
along you didn't know about who sud- 
denly becomes a winner. The potential 
losers, I think, are the ones who fail to 
recognize how critical computer commu- 
nications have become and fail to adapt 
to providing products and services in 
computer-mediated form. I think that 
they may very well find themselves with 
a shrinking share of the business. 
.: Who would that be? 
Crf: Well, I could imagine a cable 
company that fails completely to under- 
stand that computer services are increas- 
ingly important may find themselves in 
some trouble, but only if there's compe- 
tition obviously. But there will be an 
absolute clamor. What will happen is, if 
cable access to the Internet becomes very 
attractive and effective and your cable 
company doesn't do it, there's going to 
be a great hue and cry to the local 
administration that handed the franchise 
out to either get those guys off their 
butts or go get somebody else that knows 
what they're doing. So that's one exam- 
ple of it. 
The local exchange carriers, I think, 
will be under some pressure as a conse- 
quence of that to do a better job of sup- 
plying data services. And wherever 
there's an opportunity to induce compe- 
tition so that people who fail to get the 
word are superseded by people who've 
figured it out, the public will benefit. 
.R: What kind of impact will infor- 
mation technology in the age of the 
Internet have on education? 
Cerf: Well, it has already done some- 
thing pretty dramatic as far as I can tell 
in many of the scientific disciplines. It is 
almost impossible to do a good job of 
research now without being on the Net 
and able to read, and coordinate your 
work with the work of others, and find 
out about recent events. And as Web 
pages get more elaborate and more easily 
accessible--you can imagine e-mail mes- 
sages that point to Web pages and you 
just click on them and you are in the 
middle of somebody's recent research 
report. So I believe we already have 
rounded the curve in higher education 
on the research side. 
On the curricular side I think we're 
still in the early days. One of the things 
that excites mc in the K-12 area is the 
use of simulated environments, creating 
classrooms that have facilities in them 
that we might not ever be able to build 
in the real world. I'm thinking about 
even something as simple-minded as the 
text simulation world of MOOs; even in 
that very crude kind of environment 
where commands have to be typed in 
and you don't really see anything--you 
only get to talk about it--in those envi- 
4{ Educom Review 
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ronments you can create some pretty 
interesting learning possibilities, espe- 
cially if you can mix a little bit more 
technology in. For example, the Cyber- 
ian city thing up at MIT has always 
attracted me as an interesting prototype. 
It's a simulated earth station in orbit 
around the earth and it contains a lot of 
different rooms to devote to various sci- 
entific activities. And one of them is an 
observatory. They don't do this--but I 
can easily imagine taking that idea and 
allowing students to conduct experi- 
ments using the telescopes which appear 
to be just a part of the simulated envi- 
ronment but which in fact are real 
instruments on the Internet and which 
are responding to requests to capture 
images or radio information from various 
parts of the sky. 
The thing that excites me about the 
simulated environments--whether they 
are virtual reality and 3D-rendered or 
just simply textual--is that I can orga- 
nize real-world network-based resources 
to be accessible through this simulated 
environment. And so there is a smooth 
and seamless linkage between the real 
world and the simulated world. So I 
guess the simple way of saying it is you 
can let students do science instead of 
reading about it. 
Those simulated environments, of 
course, can be applied to more than just 
scientific research. We can create social 
environments in them and let people act 
out various scenarios. We can then go 
back and analyze them and discuss them. 
I saw some very interesting work being 
done at Simon Frasier University up in 
British Columbia just a couple of days 
ago--a demonstration by one of the pro- 
fessors there who showed a very interest- 
ing tool for letting students create a 
problem to solve--in this case it was the 
design of the university after the year 
2000 and to create roles. One person was 
an anthropology professor. Another per- 
son was a PTA president. A third person 
was a teacher . . . and so on. And they 
organized this week or two 
of debate and discussion, 
to try to get recommenda- 
tions put together for the 
person who was pretend- 
ing to be the Minister of 
Education. And the sys- 
tem that had been built, 
which I think was Macin- 
tosh-based, captured an 
enormous amount of 
information. All the e- 
mail, of course, was 
stashed away in an archive. 
It kept track of who it was 
that sent it, when it was 
sent, where were they 
when they sent it, which 
machine were they on. Of 
course all of these statistics 
were then used to go back 
and analyze what the 
interactions were about, 
how conclusions were reached, how peo- 
ple made use of the systems, and at what 
times of the day. 
And so, talk about critical thinking! 
This gave the students a substantial tool 
set to go and find out how they worked 
with each other. Not only did they tackle 
the actual problem, but then they got to 
go back and understand the dynamics of 
group interaction. The woman who did 
this work is Linda Harasim, at Simon 
Frasier University. 
E.R: Well, let's end with a flourish. 
What's your greatest fear--and what's 
your greatest hope--for the Internet? 
Cerf: Well, the worst fear of course 
is that enormous investments will be 
made and the Net really will proliferate 
but that somehow or other--like televi- 
sion before it, it will be economically 
viable only in such a limited mode that it 
doesn't fulfill any of the optimistic 
promises that everyone has for any new 
telecommunications infrastructure that 
comes along. 
"The biggest hope is that 
the Internet really will 
ed' ing 
succe zn becom an 
injastructure that will 
support and absorb all 
the other media that 
' loped 
were deve over 
the last couple of 
thousand years." 
I feel myself much on the same 
precipice that I imagine those people 
who developed television might have 
found themselves staring at. Or maybe 
only in retrospect--realizing that they 
were at the edge, which is the difference 
between the great mountain that they 
hoped we could walk up to find ourselves 
in the light, versus the great abyss where 
we ended up in much of television, 
which is just uniform pabulum that 
hasn't got much intellectual content. It 
would be a tragedy if the Internet were to 
end up looking into the same kind of 
The biggest hope is that the Internet 
really will succeed in becoming an infra- 
structure that will support and absorb all 
the other media that we've developed 
over the last couple of thousand years. I 
don't mean replace, I just mean absorb 
and be able to provide an alternative to 
paper, radio, television and telephoner 
And I hope that everyone in this 
entire planet gets access to it. It's always 
been my personal objective to take the 
Internet where no Net has gone before. m 
July/August 47 
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